Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Hackney Coach in the 1830s

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Hackney coach
Loretta reports:

My characters often take hackneys.  It wasn’t a classy way to travel, but the vehicles were ubiquitous, as one of the links in this post indicates. Also, it’s a preferred mode of transport for someone who's traveling incognito.  But what were hackneys like?

Here’s Charles Dickens’s description, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

Hackney cabriolet
At this time, there were two different varieties of hackneys.  The other is a hackney cab (or cabriolet), which looks a bit more like the hansom cabs that appear later in the century.  Dickens distinguishes between the two, but elsewhere the hackneys seem to be lumped together as a mode of public transportation.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.

**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
***more about watermen here.
Images are from Henry Charles Moore, Omnibuses and cabs, their origin and history 1902, courtesy Internet Archive. 
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Wisp of a Bandeau Bra, c. 1920

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Fashion thrives on change, and one of the most dramatic shifts came with the end of the 19th c. and the second decade of the 20th. The red silk corset from 1889 that I featured earlier this week and this bandeau bra, left, from the 1920s are both from the exhibition Exposed: A History of Lingerie, now showing at the Museum at FIT, and I can't imagine two other pieces of clothing that would make the change more vivid.

The corset belongs to the 1890s, an era that prized an hourglass figure, accentuated by whalebone, bustles, and lots of tailoring and drapery. The 1920s ushered in a boyish silhouette with a minimum of feminine curves. As the placard on the bandeau bra explains:

"Bras of the 1920s bore little resemblance to the bust supporters introduced during the late nineteenth century. In correspondence to the increasingly slender body type of the fashionable woman, most bras were designed to flatten and de-emphasize the bosom. Although the styles varied widely, the bandeau bra was the most modern in its simplicity."

This change happened in the course of only thirty years, a not unrealistic span in a woman's fashion-lifetime. Imagine the response of a woman who had worn the red corset under clothes like these, right, as a twenty-year-old newlywed, confronted in her fifties with a stylish granddaughter who'd adopted the latest flapper-inspired styles, lower left.

The same dismay must have been felt by 18th c. women who'd worn stays all their lives and were abruptly faced with the minimal support and gossamer muslin gowns of the early 19th c. Another generation of women who likely felt similarly betrayed would have been those who'd been proud of their curvaceous, bombshell figures in the 1950s – until Mary Quant's Youthquake appeared in the 1960s, and Twiggy replaced Jayne Mansfield as the fashionable ideal.

All of which supports one of my personal theories about fashion: To be a fashionable beauty, you have to get lucky, and be born into the right time period for what Nature gave you.

Above left: Bandeau bra, silk and lace, 1920s. Museum at FIT.
Right: "Dress for a New Year's Reception, Modes Parisiennes", Peterson's Magazine, January, 1890.
Lower left: "Evening at the Casino," fashion plate from Art-Goût-Beaut magazine, Paris, 1920s.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hair care in the 1820s-1830s

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Hair for evening 1828
Loretta reports:

Susan’s recent posts (here and here )about 1770s hair care sent me to my beloved The Lady’s Stratagem by Frances Grimble.* to see how much had changed (or not) in the 1820s-1830s, the setting for my books.

For those fluent in French, the text from the original, Elisabeth Celnart's Manuel des dames (published between 1827-1833), is here.  Those, like me, who aren’t fluent, will be grateful for Ms. Grimble’s translation.  You will note that, as Isabella pointed out, clean doesn’t necessarily mean what a modern reader thinks it means.  Recipes abound for oils and pomatums.  Shampoo?  Not so much.  It’s more or less a last resort, as you’ll see.

“Your principal task must be to keep your hair extremely clean.  Every morning, before arranging your hair, disentangle it with a large comb, holding it upright in a straight line in order not to break the hairs...When your hair has been well cleansed*...rub it with a square brush with a handle, whose bristles are very soft, or better yet are replaced with fine rice roots...

“When night comes, very gently undo your coiffure, first removing all the black pins which you find there, and shaking out the locks as you let them down.  These steps are especially necessary when your hair has been dressed by a hair-dresser.”

After this the lady is urged to comb her hair well and plait it.  Unplaited hair becomes damaged.  It also easily escapes one’s night cap and soils the pillow.
Hair product c. 1860

“When by nature, or by the prolonged or exaggerated use of oils and pomatums, your hair is greasy to the point of being dull, dense, and flat, you must resort to soap solutions.  Pour a demi-tasse of lukewarm water into a saucer.  Soak a very lightly-perfumed toilet-soap in the water for a few moments, and stir it a little.  Soon the water will be foamy.   Then spread the locks of your hair well apart, and with a sponge dampened with the soapy water, wash them well from all sides.”

You dry the hair with warm linen, then brush it with the rice brush.

Madame recommends that blond hair be “washed very rarely.”

*More about this fabulous compendium here and  here and here and here.)

**by combing

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A "Healthy" Corset in Red Silk, 1889

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Isabella reporting,

One of my favorite galleries in New York City is the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Drawing from the museum's own extensive collections, their exhibitions always offer thoughtful and fascinating perspectives on fashion, and their latest show, Exposed: A History of Lingerie is no exception. From stays to bustles, 20s camiknicker to 80s thongs - the secrets of Western women's most private attire and underwear drawer are all on display.

This small (it measures only 33"-22"-32") red silk corset, created by the Warner Brothers Company of Bridgeport, CT, in 1889, intrigued me because it was advertised by its creators as a "healthy" style. Here's an excerpt from the exhibition label:

"Although this vibrant corset is especially alluring, it was likely marketed as a 'healthy' style. Its curvaceous silhouette was achieved using coraline, a plant-basted material marketed as a more flexible alternative to whalebone or steel."

Intrigued, I did a bit of research. A Warner Brothers company sales piece does in fact tout the healthy benefits of their corsets, especially in comparison to that great villain, whalebone:

" more pliable and yielding to the movements of the body. The object of stiffness in a corset is not to convert the form into a rigid statue, to paralyze the action of the heart and lungs, to destroy a woman's comfort and to ruin her health...All the benefit a corset can give is to afford just that degree of rigidity to the waist and chest which shall give graceful curves to the contour of the body, and enable the dress to fit smoothly...[with] the ease, comfort, elasticity and grace of action which come from wearing a Coraline Corset...[in place of] her former instrument of torture."

Hmm, that sounds suspiciously similar to the modern sales pitch for Spanx.

But wait - there's more! A lady could purchase this corset comforted by the fact that De Ver Warner & Lucien C. Warner were "regularly educated physicians" who had seen first-hand the "effects of badly fitting corsets upon the health of women." The brothers had made it their personal mission "to extend the blessing of properly fitting corsets to the entire community," even "giving up a large and lucrative practice" to do so.

The altruism of these good doctors knew no bounds. Not only was their factory a model building in which to work, with "all the rooms heated by steam, and abundantly supplied with light and air," but the majority of their workers were women. And such women, too:

"They are mostly New England girls, and very many of them know how to teach school as well as to stitch a corset. We find it is only by employing intelligent help that we can secure the superior quality of work which we demand."

Really, how could you not buy one of their corsets?

If you'd like to read more, the entire sales piece is online here. If you'd like to read how the Warner Brothers Corset Company eventually evolved into the giant textile and clothing corporation known as The Warnaco Group, here's a link to a short history of the company.

Better still, visit the Museum at FIT yourself.  Exposed runs through November 15, 2014. If you can't get to New York, highlights of the exhibition are online here. Even better will be a lavish companion book to the exhibition by Colleen Hill, with an introduction by Valerie Steele, to be published by Yale University Press in September. See here for more information about the book, which is already on my wish-list.

Above: Warner Bros. Corset, red silk satin & coraline, 1889. Photograph courtesy of Museum at FIT.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 21, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014
Ready for your browsing pleasure! Our weekly round-up of our fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, collected via Twitter.
Summertime women in late 19th c.- early 20th c. paintings.
• Why no man should marry a lady of learning, 1708.
• The best insult you'll ever read thanks to Julia Allen in 1931 Australia.
• If it's not hot enough for you, here's Eugen Sandow, the "perfect man" of the 1890s.
Image: Indian suffragettes in London, 191l.
• A classic quiz: do these names belong to Muppets - or 18th c. Connecticutians?
• Wearing "my own dear lace": the wedding of Queen Victoria's youngest daughter.
• George Washington liked ice cream so much that he bought ice cream-making equipment for the new capital.
• Wood block illustrations from Charles Hindley's "Street Cries of London," 1884.
• This week in 1903, Ford Motors shipped their first car, a bright red Model A, to a Chicago dentist.
• The Cannibal Club: racism and rabble-rousing in Victorian England through lurid secret societies.
• Dollhouses, skully, and puddles: Lower East Side NYC children of early 1900s, having summertime fun.
Image: The Old Curiosity shop in the 1890s, made famous by Charles Dickens, and still standing today.
Coats of arms of great knights, including Galahad and Lancelot, c. 1460.
• The secrets of the 17th c. Banqueting House, London, and its potentially lifesaving weathervane.
• Photographs of Scotland and Ireland c. 1894.
• The best television costume designs of the year, on display at FIDM Museum.
• Who's up for Leo Tolstoy's 1874 family recipe for mac & cheese?
• Grave matters: early body-snatchers unearthed.
Image: Regency prizefight champion Jem Belcher: "His agility, speed, and craft earned him the nickname Napoleon of the Ring."
• The curious mark that appears on every City of London bridge.
• Bums, tums, and downy calves: Georgian fashion enhancements.
• What does this 18th c. French work table have to do with the privacy of women?
Image: For cheeky fashionistas: "Ladies dress, as it soon will be," by Gillray, 1796.
The Health-Jolting Chair, advertised in Harper's Weekly, May, 1885.
• The strange life and adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew (1690-1758.)
Venus revealed in a beautiful English garden in Italy.
Image: The Green Sofa, by Sir John Lavery, 1903.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Casual Friday: Weird Al Sings the Grammar Blues

Friday, July 25, 2014
Loretta reports:

Do incorrectly placed apostrophes drive you to distraction?  Do you wish severe penalties could be imposed on people who use quotation marks for emphasis?  Then this video is for you.

The illustration, of my own well-used copy of Fowler, offers a clue about my feelings. I’m even in the dwindling minority who refuse to stick an e on the end of chaperon and firmly believe that the whole comprises the parts.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part II: How They Did It

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Considering the towering hairstyles worn by women in the 1770s, the question that inevitably comes to mind is "how did they do it?" For the answer, I turned to two of our friends from Colonial Williamsburg, the manuta-maker's apprentices of the Margaret Hunter shop: Abby Cox and Sarah Woodyard.

These two young women not only dress in the clothing of the 1770s on a daily basis, but they are constantly researching the period to make their "look" as authentic as possible. Because they participated in the fashion trades, 18th c. milliners, mantua-makers, and their shop assistants dressed in the latest styles as a form of advertising as well as personal preference. This can be seen in prints like the one, right, where the milliners are wearing elaborate hair and caps. (For a photograph of the Margaret Hunter shop's interpretation of this print for a recent conference, see here - plenty more big hair!)

As part of her apprenticeship, Abby has been searching primary sources and prints for the secrets of these hairstyles, and of Georgian hair-care in general. Here are a few of her findings (and many thank to her for sharing them!)

First, forget 21st notions of bouncy, squeaky-clean hair. Eighteenth-century women did not scrub their hair clean, so much as cleanse it. Instead of daily lathering of soap and water (which can damage hair), they worked pomatum into the hair with their fingers, added powder, and then brushed and combed vigorously. The pomatum could have been made at home or purchased, and consisted of animal fat plus fragrance. The powder would have included some sort of finely-ground starch, with ground sheep or beef bones and ground orris-root for a light floral scent.

Following an 18th c. recipe, Abby made pomatum of mutton fat and pig's lard with essence of lemon and clove oil, to be kept in a jar. I can report that this mixture smelled absolutely, delightfully spicy – plus, as Abby noted, clove oil is a natural flea and tick repellent. The recipe for her hair powder came from The Toilet of Flora, first published in 1772 (and here online.) Think of the pomatum as a rich, deep conditioner applied as a kind of scalp massage, followed by the powder as dry shampoo. This treatment is hardly limited to the Georgians, either. Indian women, known for their beautiful, long hair, have long followed a similar cleansing regimen of oiling and combing.

This process was done frequently, too. No matter how elaborate the style, Georgian women always took their hair down at night and combed it out. For many women, this was likely a relaxing, aromatherapeutic ritual for the end of the day - although there were no doubt some lazy, slovenly hussies who didn't, giving rise to the myths about maggots.

Hair that had been treated like this made styling much easier, just as modern hairdressers rely on powdered dry shampoo to add texture and body before attempting up-dos. More powder was dusted on before styling to achieve the fashionable matte, "dusty" look of powder and to make dark hair paler. Unlike the beehives of the 1950's-60's, Georgian women did not tease their hair, but added extra volume with padded forms called rollers and cushions, middle right. Think of them as the 18th c. answer to Bumpits.

Sewn of wool cloth to match the wearer's hair, these were shaped pillows stuffed lightly with down or sheep's wool. The hair was wrapped around, (that's Abby demonstrating, middle left), or pulled through the forms, and smoothed and pinned (with u-shaped hairpins) into the desired shape. Side curls could be rolled and pinned into place, and extra touches could include braids or false curls. (Wearing a more elaborate style, above left, is the third of the shop's summer interns, Rebecca Starkins, a PhD candidate at N.Y.U. in English literature.) There was no mousse, gel, or hairspray; the pomatum and the powder offered the necessary staying-power.

How long would all this take a busy 18th c. apprentice before she appeared for work? If Abby and Sarah are any indication, not long at all. They accomplished these elaborate styles in about ten to fifteen minutes, or less time than many modern young women spend with blow-dryers and flat-irons. A skilled 18th c. professional hairdresser would have been able to perform the basics in less time, plus construct a more towering edifice of hair complete with flowers, ribbons, and strands of pearls.

More impressive still is the fact that both Abby and Sarah have both given up modern hair care products altogether, and "practice what they preach" with pomatum and powder. When they go visit their (modern) hairdressers for a cut, they're greeted with amazement, for their hair is healthy, strong, and thick - and, they swear, in better condition than ever. Hmm...perhaps the old ways ARE the best.

For the record: The length of Abby's hair is just below her shoulders, Sarah's is to the middle of her back, and Rebecca's is to her waist. Many thanks to them all!

Upper right: detail, A Morning Ramble, or - The Milliners' Shop, published by Carington Bowles, 1782. The British Museum.
Photographs by the Margaret Hunter Shop and Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Gothic Grand Piano for July 1826

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gothic grand piano
Gothic piano description
Loretta reports:

This is not at all what we’re accustomed to, in the way of grand pianos.  But as the text informs us, a piano was a relatively new instrument, so there wasn’t much in the way of preconceived notions about what it ought to look like.  The idea, as explained, is to make the instrument match the decor, and the Gothic* style was well loved.  Though many associate classic Greek simplicity with this time period, "more is more” tended to be the design ideal, most notably for the sovereign (formerly Prince Regent), King George IV.

*Previous posts on the Gothic style include Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, looking glasses, dairy houses, and cottages.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Truth about the Big Hair of the 1770s: Part One

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Even people who don't know anything about 18th c. women's fashion know about the hair. Towering hair styles, wigs filled with maggots, clouds of powder making everyone sneeze - EVERYONE knows that!

They may know it, but that version isn't quite right. Negative myths about past-fashion like maggot-filled wigs and rib-breaking corsets are so easy to accept because they're self-congratulatory. We're so much wiser now in 2014, aren't we?

The truth about the elaborate hair styles of the 1770s is actually more interesting than the myths, and makes more sense, too. Yes, it's an extreme style, first worn at the French Court before traveling to England. It's a status-fashion, too. The complexity of the styles showed that the wearer had both the leisure-time to devote to her hair, and most often the wealth to employ a professional hairdresser or accomplished lady's maid to achieve it. The height framed the face, and balanced out the full skirts of the period, creating a proportion that was much admired at the time. (Anyone who believes modern fashion is beyond extremes like this need only recall the huge power-shoulders popular in women's clothing of the 1980s.)

The Duchess of Beaufort, above left, is going for the height of formal hair, with a very large hair style given a dusting of pale powder; her natural brunette color is just showing through the powder.

Big hair was considered stylish for less formal wear, too. Mrs. Vere, upper right, is simply dressed. Her hair is not powdered, and while it's free of ribbons and hats, it is still piled and pinned to a towering height.

Nor were the tall hairstyles limited to the upper classes. From contemporary prints and paintings, it's clear that women who aspired to fashion - maidservants, actresses, milliners, and mantua-makers, as well as the mistresses of wealthy gentlemen - also copied the taller styles. The bar maid, middle left, crowns her hair with an elaborate cap, the better to beguile her customers.

What astonishes me is that these styles were, for the most part, not wigs, but the wearer's own hair. Nearly all Georgian gentlemen cropped their hair short and wore wigs, but few women did. Women did not cut their hair, but let it grow as long as possible. This hair was augmented with pads and rollers (more about these in Part Two), and if necessary enhanced with false curls and switches. Further embellishment came in the form of plumes, caps, hats, swags of ribbon and strands of faux pearls.

Of course, the caricaturists had a field day. The extreme hair styles were exaggerated even more, like the lady, bottom right, who is wearing an entire flower garden (including a folly) in her hair. You'll find another print here, and here. Not only could such prints make fun of the tall styles, but they also mocked the vanity of women and the foolishness of French fashions: a triple-win for the caricaturists.

But how did those women in the 1770s make their hair do this? Thanks to some of my good friends (including mantua-maker's apprentice Sarah Woodyard, bottom left) from Colonial Williamsburg, I have the answers, plus more photographs, in Part Two here.

Top left: Detail, Duchess of Beaufort, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
Top right: Detail, Mrs. Vere, by Nathaniel Dance, 1770s, private collection.
Middle left: Detail, The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778, printed by Carington Bowles. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Middle right: Detail, The Flower Garden, printed by Matthias Darly, 1777. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Bottom left: Photograph courtesy of the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where do dukes come from?

Monday, July 21, 2014
Duke of Wellington 1818
Loretta reports:

One of my readers recently sent this message:

<<How do the dukes...get their initial titles? And where does the name that follows their title come from? e.g. The Duke of Wellington; Does he earn his title? And where does the Wellington come from?>>

The Peerage is tricky, even for the British.  I often quote Whitaker’s Peerage“The rules which govern the arrangements of the Peerage are marked by so many complications that even an expert may occasionally be perplexed.” For a blog post I have to keep to very general terms, and ask you to bear in mind Whitaker’s observation.  Exceptions abound.

In a nutshell, the sovereign bestows the title—and a dukedom is not frequently bestowed, as my post about dukes points out. The name following the title is a place name, usually one with which the duke is associated.  For the Duke of Wellington, this was Wellington, in Somerset.  Does he earn his title?  That depends on your definition of “earn.” The 1820 Annual Register, listing members of the peerage, includes a column explaining the reason the title was bestowed:  Court Favour, Family Influence, State Service, Naval Services, Military Services, Diplomatic Services, Legal Services, Marriage, Influence of Wealth.

1918 Whitaker's Peerage
Interestingly, the column is blank for dukes except Leinster and Wellington: Military Service. This and royal favor seem to be the main reasons for dukedoms.  As we’ve mentioned on this blog before, King Charles II made several illegitimate sons dukes—e.g., of Monmouth, Cleveland, Grafton, Northumberland, St. Albans, and Richmond—as well as restoring or creating some for favored courtiers.

For more details, you might want to peruse Whitaker's or read the Wikipedia British Peerage entry.

Image, The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen, by Thomas Lawrence (1818)
courtesy Wikipedia. 1918 Whitaker's Peerage cover courtesy Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source page.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 14, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014
Fresh for you! Our weekly collection of favorite links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• How a move to Ceylon at age 60 affected the life and art of celebrated 19th c. photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. 
• Thomas Jefferson's handwritten vanilla ice cream recipe.
• From Downton Abbey to Pemberley, the famous fictional homes you can visit.
• Victorian doctors warned female cyclists against danger of developing serious condition called "bicycle face."
• On the anniversary this week of Alexander Hamilton's death: how Aaron Burr spoke about their duel in later years.
• The case of the misjudged gypsies: a tale from the early 19th c.
• What was inside the traveling studio of an 18th c. miniature portrait painter?
• Amelia Jenks Bloomer and the real story of "bloomers."
Image: View of the London Hospital in Whitechapel, c. 1760, when it stood in an open landscape.
• The life and clothing of Princess Diana, on display in a moving exhibition.
• In Glasgow, signs of slavery and the imperial past are never far away.
• A grievous offense: selling sexy snuffboxes to schoolgirls, 1816.
• An Elizabethan costume that appeared first in movies also was featured on a book jacket.
Video: Manhattanhenge: New York's solar phenomenon.
• The covert history of condoms in America.
• Cripples and baked potatoes: Victorian street traders.
• A lovely silk moire bonnet, c. 1845.
• An illustrated brief history of pockets from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
• Top ten marriages of the Revolutionary War era gone bad.
• This glorious 1929 Harlem movie palace survives totally intact thanks to a church.
• The sad life and unhappy marriage of the Duchess of Wellington.
Image: Ban this book!
• Well-preserved (but cursed) 16th c. warship found at the bottom of the Baltic.
• A tricky Jane Austen quiz.
• New research: thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion.
• Cooking up an 18th c. recipe for carrot pudding.
American Pastels in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: free book to read online or download.
• Lucile vs. M. Poiret: the fashion gauntlet is thrown down, 1912.
Staircases that will make you glad there's no elevator.
Image: Tour de Cool: stylish cyclists of a century or so ago.
• Brilliantly colored collection of portraits of boxers dating from 1750.
• Should we revive the art of dressmaking?
• The Nottinghamshire Giantess was born Frances Flower in 1800.
Image: Bookstore/library marketing, you're doing it right.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Video: Flowers in Bloom

Friday, July 18, 2014

Isabella reporting,

No history today - only beautiful flowers, fit for a mid-summer day. Madrid-based nature photographer David de los Santos Gil took over 50,000 photographs of flowers to create this time-lapse sequence of blossoms bursting into bloom. There's an entire garden of flowers here: lillium, hibiscus, carnations, orchids, dandelions, lilies, daisies, alstroemeria, peonies, and nigella damask. The accompanying music is by Roger Subirana. Truly breathtaking!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Perfect corsets for the 1830s

Thursday, July 17, 2014
Corset fitting
Loretta reports:

The perfect corset plays an important part in the subplot of my latest Dressmaker book, Vixen in Velvet, and I don’t doubt that women then went through the same trials and tribulations of finding the Perfect Stays  as many women today endure, in search of the Perfect Bra. 

As we’ve pointed out before, stays change quite a bit over time, and those of the 1830s are very different from what was worn earlier in the century, and nothing like the ones Isabella’s 18th century characters wear or those she’s shown from Colonial Williamsburg (here and here and elsewhere).

However, no matter what the time period, one finds advertisements extolling the virtues of a particular “special design.”

Here are two samples from the 1830s.

1833 corset ad here

1835 corset ad here

Illustration courtesy Wikipedia. Note that the image is from a 1905 book, but the illustration, by Achille Deveria, shows 1830s styles, and the original is most likely from that time period.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Strait Waistcoat for the Mad, c. 1772

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Not everything that the mantua-makers of Colonial Williamsburg make is fashionable and frothy. While I was visiting last week, Mistress of the Trade Janea Whitacre was working on a special project for the Apothecary Shop, part of their interpretation of a serious challenge confronting the 18th c. medical community. The project: stitching an 18th c. strait-jacket, or strait waistcoat, of heavy cotton twill. The completed waistcoat is here modeled by one of the shop's summer interns, Rosa Leon Lumagbas, looking appropriately unhappy.

In the 1770s, the treatment of the "mad" was still in its earliest stages. Lumped under the general heading of madness could be individuals who suffered from autism, depression, and alcoholism, as well as what we today would call mental illnesses. Georgian physicians were attempting cures, or at the very least searching for what they hoped were humane ways to restrain patients from injuring themselves or caretakers.

No original 18th c. strait waistcoats survive, but there are detailed descriptions. Distinguished Irish physician David MacBride (1726-1778) is better known today for developing a cure for scurvy, but in his landmark medical book of 1772, A Methodical Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Physic (available here on Google Books), he detailed a strait-waistcoat and its use:

No small share of the management of mad people consists in hindering them to hurt themselves, or do mischief to other persons. It has sometimes been usual to chain or to beat them, but this is both cruel and absurd; since the contrivance called the Strait Waistcoat answers every purpose of restraining the patients without hurting them.

These waistcoats are made of ticken, or some such strong stuff; are open at the back, and laced on like a pair of stays; the sleeves are made tight, and so long as to cover the ends of the fingers, and are there drawn close with a string, like a purse, by which contrivance the patient has no power of using his fingers; and, when he is laid on his back in bed, and the arms brought across the chest, and fastened in that position, by tying the sleeve-strings fast around the waist, he has no power of his hands. A broad strap of girth-web is then carried across the breast, and fastened to the bedstead, by which means the patient is confined on his back; and if he should be so outrageous as to require further restraint, the legs are secured by ligatures to the foot of the bed.

Soon strait waistcoats became an unmistakable symbol of madness, enough to convince uneasy bystanders of a person's affliction – even if that affliction was merely one of inconvenience. Such was the case with this unfortunate widow cursed with a greedy, nefarious brother, as mentioned in the Oracle and Public Advertiser, London, 25 June, 1798:

Saturday, James Weston was charged at Bow-street, of having with intent to deprive his sister, a Mrs. Powel, of her property, obtained from the Hatton-street Police Office, a pass for her removal to St. Martin's Work-house on pretense of insanity. He accordingly confided her in a straight waistcoat, and took her in that state to the work-house; but it appearing to the keepers that she was not insane, they discharged her. Her property, was, however, in the interim, seized by the prisoner. The charge of felony was not sufficiently established, and after a severe admonition, Weston was discharged.

In other words, she was the one labeled as mad, while he managed to steal her property - and then received only a legal slap on the wrist. Perhaps the strait waistcoat would have better fitted that judge....

Many thanks to Janea Whitacre and Rosa Leon Lumagbas for their help with this post.

Photographs ©2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

The Mantua-maker's Interns

Isabella reporting,

While today college and university students who wish to gain work experience become summer interns, a Georgian tradesperson would be left scratching his or her head at the term. They would, however, appreciate able young workers eager to learn their trade, and to perform the all-purpose "other duties as assigned."

These two young women are two of the 2014 summer interns for the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and last week their "other duties" included posing for photographs for this blog. It only seemed fair to show them how they appear for work each day in the shop, dressed as 18th c. seamstresses for the mantua-makers.

On the left is Rosa Leon Lumagbas, who is pursuing her MA in Costume Studies at New York University. On the right is Monica Geraffo, who is pursuing her BFA in Screen Arts & Cultures at the University of Michigan. Many thanks to them both, and I wish them the best of luck with their studies and careers.

Several of the Historic Trades in Colonial Williamsburg accept summer interns. Interns are chosen early in the year for the coming summer season. If you are a student interested in applying to the Margaret Hunter shop for next summer, the requirements and the call for applications for 2015 will be announced on the shop's Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vauxhall Gardens' M.C., the divine Mr. Simpson

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
C.H. Simpson, Esq.
Loretta reports:

Those who’ve read my latest Dressmaker book, Vixen in Velvet, will have encountered Mr. C.H. Simpson, Master of Ceremonies for the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall .  He held the post from May 1797 to his death on Christmas Day 1835.

My discovery of Mr. Simpson I owe to David E Coke’s and Alan Borg’s marvelous Vauxhall Gardens: A History.*

Apparently, he worked in obscurity until 1826, when he became a character and a celebrity.  According to Coke & Borg, “Thackeray described him as ‘the gentle Simpson, that kind smiling idiot.’  Always referred to simply by his initials C.H....he was renowned for his excessive politeness, servile manner and elaborate bows.  With his top hat and silver-mounted cane, trademarks from the beginning of his time at Vauxhall, he could easily be seen as a figure of fun.  In his later years he came to be regarded as one of the great attractions of the place, greeting all visitors with his special brand of obsequious courtesy.  He also seems to have had a role in promoting Vauxhall, developing the extravagant caricature of his personality to very good effect.”

Of course I became intrigued, even though I needed him for only a few lines of my story.  It grieves me to report that I couldn’t find his autobiography, short though it is, anywhere online, and the nearest library holding it is the British Library.  That would be in London.

Here, under The Sublime and Beautiful in Language, you can find a sample of Mr. Simpson’s style of expression.  And you can scroll down to a poem about him here: The Simpson Jubilee.

Image at upper left, C. H. Simpson, Esq. M.C.R.G.V. by Robert Isaac Cruikshank 1833, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. 
Color version of the print here.  Another image of Mr. Simpson is here at the British Museum.

* My post about the Vauxhall book is here.  You can find out more about it here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

More About Sultanas, c.1770

Sunday, July 13, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Recently I shared a pair of portraits of two 18th c. ladies, both wearing pink costumes called sultanas. It's most likely that both ladies were wearing versions of the stylish costume as provided by the artists. But a conversation this week with Sarah Woodyard, mantua-maker's apprentice in the Historic Trades program of Colonial Williamsburg, made me want to share a bit more about this interesting garment.

Yes, the exotically-named sultana was fashionable attire for a portrait, but ladies were also choosing them for elegant at-home wear, too. Cut in a relaxed T-shape much like a gentleman's wrapping gown, sultanas were usually worn without stays, and must have been wonderfully comfortable in comparison to a closely fitted gown over boned, laced undergarments.

Sultanas could be worn loose and open over another gown or shift, right, or wrapped and tied into place with a sash or belt. The simple shape displayed sumptuous fabrics like silk to best advantage, and the sultanas in portraits are often made more luxurious with fur trimming.

Versions of sultanas and wrapping gowns first appeared in England in the late 17th c., and were both inspired by clothing that had made its way through the trade routes to Turkey, India, and China. Such clothing was not only exotic and fanciful, but carried with it the new sophistication of Orientalism, a tangible symbol of England's growth as a world power.

A gentleman might (and did) wear his wrapping gown over breeches and a shirt as informal daywear away from home, but ladies only wore their sultanas at home, or as part of a fancy-dress costume a la Turque, below left. Despite their richness, the unstructured simplicity of a sultana implied intimacy. A lady could receive guests in her drawing room wearing a sultana, and one would also be considered the perfect, slightly daring dress for the hostess of an intellectual salon.

The Colonial Williamsburg mantua-makers had made a replica sultana c. 1770 of pink changeable silk taffeta, above left. Inspired by the two portraits in my post, Sarah dressed one of the shop's summer interns, Monica Geraffo, as a Georgian lady at home in her sultana, her tatting in her hand and her workbag on the table beside her. True Nerdy History Girl inspiration!

Many thanks to Sarah Woodyard and Monica Geraffo for their assistance with this post.

Above left: Photograph © Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: detail, Catherine Fleming, Lady Leicester, by Francis Cotes, c.1775. Tabley House Collection.
Lower left: detail, Mrs. Trecothick, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1772. Christie's.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of July 7, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014
Fresh for your morning reading: this week's Breakfast Links, featuring our fav links of the week to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, all gathered for you from Twitter.
• This week in 1859, the French daredevil Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
• Rooftop shenanigans: the Ziegfield Follies know how to throw an after-party, 1915.
• A history of the nude in photography - in pictures.
• Purposeful wrongness: Colonial Revival tourism, or how we thought it looked.
• How does an 18th c. recipe for "Maccarony Cheese" taste?
Image: "The New Woman": Stereograph celebrating women's changing roles (and wardrobe), 1901.
• Hitting the road in style in a sumptuous early 19th c. travelling chariot.
Lingerie ads show how perceptions have changed since 1900s.
• Medieval magic manual includes decapitation trick.
• From retail palace to zombie mall: how efficiency killed the department store.
• Marina Rossi, celebrated 18th c. rope dancer.
Image: This 1912 poster from the Indiana State Board of Health basically sums up most health books, ever.
• An elegant dinner with General Washington at Valley Forge Headquarters, 1778.
• Top Georgian tips for looking beautiful.
• Abigail Adams on racial integration of local schools in 1797.
Image: By the seaside: Biarritz, France, 1900s - Collection Roger-Viollet.
• The ten best beds in art.
• A rich, elderly widow looks up from her book to find a masked robber in her NYC mansion, 1925.
• Hudson picturesque: Newburgh, NY's historic district of 19th c houses.
• Spiraling out of control: the greatest spiral staircases in the world.
Female artists in World War One recorded the contributions of women to the war effort.
• A warning to troublesome wives and a (very) merry widower, 1733.
• A hairy history of the moustache.
• A sordid tale of bigamy and attempted murder in Georgian London.
Image: Save gas, roller skate to work!
• A collection of paintings of women in white with summer parasols.
• How the "Star-Spangled Banner" became America's national anthem.
• This 1868 etiquette book (free online) reveals like, what was the Victorian version of teens saying "like" like every other word.
Image: The creative progress: how great poems by William Black and Lord Byron began on a scribbled manuscript page.
• The forgotten illegitimate daughter of Major General Banastre Tarleton.
• California's forgotten pro-slavery past.
• Making a Palladian country house: Trafalgar Park and its first owners.
• Giving history the finger: the long, strange journey of Galileo's middle finger.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Casual Friday: Tiaras on Parade

Friday, July 11, 2014

Loretta reports:

Earlier this week I offered the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s take on tiaras,  including those she and family members wore.

Today I thought you might like to simply look at some.  Certainly a number of these call to mind her comments about the weight and the need to stand straight.

Image at upper left:  Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, ca 1916 (edited), courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Watermelon Season

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Not everything in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg relates to 18th c. America.  The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg also houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, which features  all manner of delightful pieces from the 18th-21st c. (including this early 20th c. carousel cat from an earlier blog post) by artists and craftspeople working outside the mainstream of academic art.

This gargantuan wooden watermelon with a grapevine stem and its own handcart is one of my favorites in the entire collection, and it seems appropriate for the first sultry week of July. Carved around 1960 as an advertising sign, the watermelon’s history from its exhibition placard is worth repeating:

“Miles Carpenter (1889-1985) was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he and his brothers grew up working in a family-owned sawmill. By 1910, he had married and moved his family to Waverly, Virginia, where he set up a sawmill of his own. Millwork slowed with the onset of World War II, prompting Carpenter to begin making decorative carvings out of bits of leftover wood. By 1942, however, the pace of his primary business had resumed, and not until 1955 did he again find to time to whittle and paint.

To supplement his sawmill income, Carpenter peddled garden produce from a roadside stand using this watermelon as an advertisement. In 1972, a former curator of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum spied the amusing melon when passing through Waverly, and eventually the oversized fruit was acquired for the museum. Carpenter enjoyed describing the incredulous reactions of passing motorists who had mistaken his carving for a work of nature.”

I bet those passing motorists were disappointed, too.

Above: Watermelon, by Miles Burkholder Carpenter, Waverly, VA, 1960. Oil on elm wood with natural grapevine stem. Art Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The duchess's tiara in a bag

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
All in One Basket
Loretta reports:

Here's some insight into wearing tiaras, including “the larger of the two Devonshire diamond tiaras [which] is indeed a whopper.”

“My mother-in-law, Mary Devonshire, was Mistress of the Robes to the Queen from 1953 to 1967.  Tall and beautiful, she looked magnificent when dressed for a grand occasion.  The big tiara suited her perfectly and anyone who saw her in close attendance on the young Queen at the coronation in 1953 will remember the perfection of her bearing on that famous day.  In the course of her duties, which included formal banquets for visiting heads of state and other ceremonial occasions, she used to fetch the jewels from the bank stowed in a Marks & Spencer carrier bag.

View at source here
“There can be no slouching with a tiara on your head.  It makes you stand and sit up straight.  In spite of combs, hairpins, and Kirby grips, there is always the possibility of it slipping, which makes the most dedicated teetotaler look the worse for wear.”

—Deborah Mitford, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, All in One Basket.

Image at right is the Duchess of Manchester (standing very straight, indeed) in February 1912, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recreating George Washington's Field Case

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Isabella reporting,

I’m in Colonial Williamsburg this week, where I never have far to look to discover fresh examples of Nerdy History. This morning, it appeared in the form of this unusual-looking leather case, left, sitting on a bench beside journeyman saddler Jay Howlett (We’ve seen Jay’s handiwork here on the blog before, here and here.) 

What is it? It’s a replica of one of George Washington’s field cases, or canteens, and would have been a common object in the luggage of any 18th c. army officer. Field cases were used to carry the little niceties that an officer needed to supplement basic army rations, especially when entertaining as a gentleman should. This could include wine and other spirits, spices, a mustard pot, special sauces, a nutmeg grater, even silverware and serving pieces.  

This case is a recreation of one of a pair of cases once owned by George Washington while commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. It’s modeled closely on an original, now in the collection of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Mount Vernon, and will eventually be on display at the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia. The case will be part of the museum’s permanent exhibition of the First Oval Office, featuring a replica of General Washington’s field tent. 

The reproduction is the collaborative work of several branches of Colonial Williamsburg’s historic trades program. Just as it would have been 250 years ago, the inside box frame was made of cypress wood by the joiners, the hardware was made by the blacksmiths, the interior tray made by the tinsmiths, and Jay cut and sewed the leather casing. The interior fabric was woven by hand by the Marshfield School of Weaving. Amanda Isaac, Assistant Curator, Mount Vernon's Ladies' Association, let the craftspeople study the original closely in order to make replica as exact as possible. 

The case has two separate compartments. The first, lined with green bay (a soft, woven, napped wool) and checked linen, would most likely have held a pair of square case bottles, separated by a divider (now lost.) The second compartment contains a fitted tin tray or pan whose use is something of mystery today. The compartments were closed with the flap that fits snugly over the top, and could be padlocked shut both to prevent rattling and breakage, and to discourage a sneaky thief.

Empty, the case weighs about three pounds. Loaded, it could weigh as much as 25-30 lbs. The slanting handle was designed to be strapped onto pack-horse’s saddle. The original pair of cases would have been “mirrored” in design, to hang on either side of the horse’s back. Alternatively, the cases might have been stowed in the wagons carrying the general’s belongings. Considering his rank, Washington travelled very lightly, with only three wagons. In comparison, British generals could have as many as twelve wagons, filled with furniture, supplies, and cases like this one.

Many thanks to Jay Howlett for his assistance with this post!

All photographs ©2014 Susan Holloway Scott.
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